The Weekly is STREAMING now. Join us at HorizonTV

2019 University Giants Report: College campuses are streamlining operations while addressing student wellness

Escalating costs, demographic shifts, and growing competitive pressures are pushing colleges and universities to streamline—and transform—their buildings and operations, according to BD+C's 2019 Giants 300 Report.

August 07, 2019 |
2019 University Giants Report, Biological Science Building at the University of Michigan, Ennead Architects and Barton Malow, 2019 Giants 300 Report

The new 312,000-sf Biological Science Building at the University of Michigan, by Ennead Architects (design architect) and SmithGroup (AOR), unites two science departments and three museums under one roof. Barton Malow was the general contractor. Photo courtesy Barton Malow

State funding of U.S. public higher-education institutions declined by 16% from 2008 to 2017, even as tuition rose an average 35%. Campuses are adapting their facilities to underscore the ROI of earning a degree to a more discerning student population.

Many institutions are emphasizing interdisciplinary research. The University of Michigan’s new Biological Sciences Building brings together the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, as well as the museums of Natural History, Paleontology, and Zoology. Designed by Ennead Architects and SmithGroup, the facility houses large, open classrooms and a flexible active-learning hall for group work.

A 100,000-sf classroom addition to the historic Alexander G. Ruthven Museums Building at the University of Michigan features learning spaces that can quickly transition from lectures to small work teams to larger group discussions.


The 2019 University Giants Report is sponsored by Viracon. Also check out these 2019 University Sector Rankings, brought to you by Viracon:
Top 175 University Architecture Firms for 2019
• Top 90 University Engineering Firms for 2019
• Top 95 University Construction Firms for 2019


“Higher education clients are focusing on creating spaces that can accommodate large, modern, team-based, and active-learning classrooms that also keep an eye on flexibility to accommodate future programmatic changes,” says Rob Rankin, LEED AP BD+C, Project Director, Barton Malow.

Some universities are creating “innovation districts” to historically separate programs. “These districts create holistic living and learning environments, offer a sense of community, and help connect and immerse higher-ed institutions with surrounding communities and professional organizations,” says Patricia Bou, AIA, LEED AP, Principal, CannonDesign.

Rather than committing to an entire new building to house its new engineering program, Loyola University Chicago opted to renovate a storefront adjacent to several off-campus properties. The 9,255-sf Flex Lab is large enough to accommodate the program’s gradual growth while encouraging the exploration of different engineering sciences.

“The highly flexible, reconfigurable space supports entrepreneurial partnerships with students in the community and the university’s social justice mission,” says Chris Purdy, Vice President and Higher Education Practice Director at SmithGroup.

A new 790-space underground parking structure at Washington University in St. Louis is designed with built-in flexibility so it can potentially be repurposed into academic research or teaching space in the future. McCarthy Building Companies laser scanned all the post-tensioning cable, rebar, and embedded MEP systems before concrete was poured on the deck so the university will have access to precise 3D data in the event of future renovation or repurposing.


Loyola University Chicago Flex Lab, by SmithGroup, Photo Dave Burk, 2019 University Giants report, BD+CRather than committing to a new building to house its new engineering program, Loyola University Chicago opted to renovate a storefront adjacent to several off-campus properties. The 9,255-sf Flex Lab was designed by SmithGroup. Photo: Dave Burk


Colleges and universities are also doubling down on academic programs that equip students with hand-on skills for in-demand careers. “Over the last year, we’ve seen an increase in the number of projects related to specific careers,” such as nursing, welding, automotive, automation, and electronics, says Jeff Oke, PE, Principal and Client Executive, IMEG Corp.

Wake Tech Community College opened the first building on a new 94-acre campus in Research Triangle Park, N.C., to help meet rising demand for technology workers in the region’s knowledge-based economy. Co-located with technology, life science, and R&D partner companies, the campus is a collaborative venture built with curriculum guidance and financial support from Cisco, Red Hat, and Lenovo.

“This adaptable building helps fulfill Wake Tech’s vision to be a vital hub between the academic and corporate worlds,” said Kenneth Luker, AIA, LEED AP, Design Principal, Perkins+Will.



Health and wellness are taking center stage on many college and university campuses to address student anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.

Recent research from the American College Health Association reveals that three out of five college students experienced overwhelming anxiety in the last year; two out of five were too depressed to function. Only 10-15% of students who need help typically seek such services at campus counseling centers.

“Academic institutions are creating wellness centers to provide students more mental health resources than ever before,” says John Baxter, AIA, LEED AP, Higher Education Sector Leader at EYP. The McLeod Tyler Wellness Center at the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Va., which opened last fall, integrates counseling, medical, and healthy living spaces in a highly visible and accessible campus building.

There’s also an emphasis on designing for inclusivity, as universities strive to offer customized experiences matched to each student’s unique academic journey. “Universities are engaged in a conscious drive toward multicultural human experience as they recognize evolving campus cultures,” says Charles Smith, AIA, LEED AP, Principal, CannonDesign. “Student unions, dining experiences, and residence halls are being programmed and designed to create more open, collaborative, and supportive environment for all students.”

This fall, Pratt Institute will open Emerson Place, a new 10-story residence hall in Brooklyn designed to address the complex needs of first-year students. Compartmentalized toilet and bathing facilities located outside of traditional doubles sleeping rooms will give students privacy while addressing gender politics, identity, and religious diversity.

“Our clients understand the importance of providing spaces and resources that allow students to decompress or regroup,” says Lynne Deninger, AIA, LEED AP, CannonDesign Principal and Boston Practice Leader.



Overlay Init

Your card will be charged: 0